Amazon Prime’s erotic thriller, The Voyeurs, stands tall as one of the best films of 2021. Allison and I sat down via Zoom for a special spoilery chat with three of the film’s central stars, as well as writer/director Michael Mohan. We talk the forgotten era of the erotic thrillers, first reactions to this twisty script, filmmaking inspirations, making the leap from HBO Max’s Generation to The Voyeurs, learning about optometry, and the on-set vibe with the air thick from sexual tension!
Thomas (Justice Smith) and Pippa (Sydney Sweeney) have a new dream home with one fatal flaw—it directly overlooks an apartment in the opposite building that has zero blocking of its wide-open windows. Now, Thomas and Pippa have a peeping eye into the exhibitionist lives of a gorgeous couple. One is a sleazy photographer named Seb (Ben Hardy), the other is a more timid ex-model named Julia (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). At first, watching their sexual exploits from afar is titillating for Thomas and Pippa, and throws spice into their relationship when Pippa comes home with a pair of binoculars. But Pippa’s curiosity morphs into an obsession that threatens to topple both relationships in a domino-effect of impending disaster. Read on for our exclusive interviews with Ben Hardy, Justice Smith, Sydney Sweeney, and Michael Mohan!
Thank you so much for chatting with us today! I’m Josh, and this is Allison. I just wanted to start first by saying really quickly that we both loved the film. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, and I literally had no clue what was gonna happen next. For each of you, what was your favorite twist, or the one that caught you most by surprise?
BEN HARDY: I mean, when I read the script—first off, I was like, oh, this is great. This is really exciting. This is good. And then the twist happens where Thomas dies. And I was like, I’m so checked out of this. I don’t want to read the rest of this. This is so ridiculous. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. I’m not doing this film, but I was like, fine. I’ll keep going. I kept going, and then I got to the final twist obviously, where that wasn’t actually the case. That he hadn’t killed himself. My mind was blown. I feel like I’ve read so many scripts over the years… Justice, I’m sure you can relate.)
JUSTICE SMITH: So many scripts, so many projects just calling your name! Offer after offer after offer. *laughs*
BEN: You feel like you get to know the structure of film, as I’m sure you guys do as well. You know, being cinephiles you get to know the structure. You know where something’s going, that it feels very rare to be surprised by something. It just completely blew my mind. I never saw it coming in a million years.
JUSTICE: I agree. I actually agreed to do the movie after like 40 pages because it was amazing! I thought it was great and dynamic and awesome. Then I got to the point where Thomas dies after I agreed to do the movie. I didn’t know that he died—I was like, what? Then I got to the end and I equally was shocked and thrilled and surprised.
BEN: Did you call your agent and be like, no, I’m not in the whole film. Is it too late to back out?
JUSTICE: I was like, oh shit I didn’t know this! Again, I was like, so taken by Michael’s writing and his story. So I knew I had to do it.
Justice, the role of Thomas could not be more of a polar opposite from Chester in Generation. What made the concept of this erotic thriller so appealing as your next film role? Did you film this before or after Generation?
JUSTICE: I filmed the pilot of Generation, and then I filmed this, and then I went and shot the rest of the season of Generation. I just thought it was interesting that my career was taking this like sex turn, because it was all this sex—just offer after offer. I thought it was cool because I was in the YA space for the longest time, and Generation is like a bridge between YA and something a little more adult.
Then I got this role and it’s again, a little more adult. I was happy to see that I was going to be able to work past 24. Didn’t do roles that are my own age. It was just like a different spin on sexuality. You know, we examined sexuality in Generation from an adolescent perspective, and also how sexuality informs relationship, whereas this film examines the shadow side of sexuality. I don’t want to say perverted side of sexuality, but I do want to say perverted. I don’t want to put bad connotations on that because you know, people do what they need to do, and if it’s consensual, then that’s great. I just liked it explored a darker aspect of that world.
I loved the way the film kind of sexualizes voyeurism in a weird way. What was the vibe like on set with elevated sexual tension in many of the scenes?
JUSTICE: Listen. So there was a lot of scenes that Sydney and I shot of reacting to the neighbors where Ben and Natasha had shot their stuff private previously, and we weren’t reacting to anything. But there were a few shots that we actually watched Ben and Natasha do what they do. The reaction that Michael got from us, watching the actual thing versus watching the fake thing was so different…
There’s something that happens to you when you see something so intimate and private. Obviously it’s choreographed, but when you’re watching naked people have sex (simulated sex in this case), you’re like ‘Oh, whoa, I don’t know if I should watch this! You have a visceral reaction, you know, that’s different. It’s also based on your maturity level, and mine is just really low.
BEN: It’s a normal reaction for a human though, right? It’s visceral, you know? This is the most time Justice and I have ever spent on camera!
Thanks again for your time, and I can’t wait to watch the movie again when it premieres on Amazon! A toast to wonderful terrible decisions!
Next up, we chatted with The Voyeurs director Michael Mohan, and lead actress (and incredible sweetheart) Sydney Sweeney. Though our time was short, Sydney shares her squeamishness towards eyes, and Michaels talks about why he decided to revisit the oft-neglected subgenre: the erotic thriller.
What a unique and singular vision—we both loved it. The topic of moral responsibility when it comes to cheating pops up several times throughout The Voyeurs. Do you think if you observe the act and have full knowledge of the situation that you should intervene?
MICHAEL MOHAN: Ooh, that’s the question we’re hoping the movie asks. We’re hoping that this like an Indecent Proposal situation where, you know, back then it was like, would you sleep with Robert Redford for a million dollars? (to Sydney) Would you sleep with Robert Redford for a million dollars though?
I am old! Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid! Anyways, this is a conversation for later.
SYDNEY SWEENEY: I have some homework apparently!
So this is like one of those steely moral dilemmas where you have to go, like, what would you do? And so the question you’re asking us is the question we’re actually asking the audience. And so I think for me, I don’t want to give an answer because I think that would spoil the heated debate that hopefully happens from this movie after it’s over.
SYDNEY: Everyone will go into it with our responses.
For Sydney, did you study anything about optometry to get more educated for the role, and what was it like filling the shoes of such a complicated and ultimately flawed character like Pippa?
SYDNEY: So I’m very squeamish when it comes to anything doctor related, or eye related. I tried to watch videos, read books. I was like, ‘Ooh, maybe I’ll enroll myself in some doctorate school.’
MICHAEL: She almost passed out when we shot those scenes. The outtakes… You would be putting this thing that keeps an eye propped open and you could see [her reaction], we were rolling.
SYDNEY: I literally had to put eye drops in the eye, and I could not look!
MICHAEL: It was great. It was so great. But she’s such a talented actor that you didn’t even know that.
SYDNEY: You didn’t even know! I tried. I tried my hardest to be okay with it. The studying didn’t go too far, but I knew the jist of it because I had to work the machine and did eye exams. I wanted to understand how that worked, which was really fascinating.
It was definitely complex because Pippa is a complex and diverse character with many flaws, with many thought processes, with a lot of internal dilemmas going on that sometimes she doesn’t particularly say. I feel like that’s all juicy to me and I thoroughly enjoy it.
The erotic thrillers of the 90’s are practically lost and forgotten to most modern audiences today, with the closest equivalent being maybe 50 Shades Darker, or something. What drew you into revamping this neglected subgenre?
MICHAEL: I think it’s one of those genres that just somehow evaporated. I had made some short films before (one of them was called XX, another one called Pink Grapefruit) that explored the idea of using sex as story, where the narrative was being moved along—there was a sense of tension happening within those scenes. Oftentimes when you see them in a movie, you could cut them out, and the movie would still work, or it’s quite chaste.
So these short films played Sundance, and when they screened, you could feel the temperature rise in the audience. Trying to figure out how to take what I sort of did with those short films and bring it to a broader canvas… It was around that time I discovered this art of erotic thrillers. I figured if I could do my thing that I did on these $2,000 short films, I could potentially bring that sensitivity to a genre that had gone away, and redefine it for a modern audience.
Talking with Ben, Justice, Michael, and Sydney was truly a treat, and we were so happy get some burning questions answered about their excellent new film, The Voyeurs. Don’t miss it exclusively on Amazon Prime, releasing on Friday, September 10th!
Check out our full review for The Voyeurs.